A New York appellate court has upheld a $3,150,000 verdict against an obstetrician-gynecologist involving the negligent delivery of a newborn that led to the baby suffering a brachial plexus injury that resulted in Erb’s palsy. The baby’s shoulder got stuck in her mother’s pubic bone during delivery, which is known as shoulder dystocia. The resulting injury to the child’s brachial plexus (a group of nerves running from the neck into the arm) resulted in severe and permanent injuries.
As a result of the child’s injuries, she was required to have extensive and painful medical treatments, including five surgeries and lengthy periods when she had to wear braces, splints, or casts on her affected arm. Activities that require the use of two hands is difficult or impossible for the child to do. The child (who was 16 at the time of the trial in 2012) had to wear a back brace to treat her scoliosis syringomyelia, which was related to her brachial plexus injury. There was testimony during trial that her injury and treatments prevented her from attending school at times and that her self-confidence, social adjustment, and appearance were affected.
Evidence introduced during trial established that the child will require medical treatments and therapies for the rest of her life. She continues to need assistance with bathing, grooming, and dressing.
The plaintiffs’ medical expert testified during the trial that the defendant had failed to properly estimate the weight of the baby before birth, which is a known risk factor for shoulder dystocia (birth rate over 8 pounds 13 ounces is a significant risk factor). The defendant had estimated the baby’s weight at less than 8 pounds (the baby weighed 9 pounds 2 ounces at birth). Other relevant risk factors for shoulder dystocia were the short stature of the mother, the father’s relative height over six feet, the mother’s weight, and the birth weight of the parents’ older child.
The plaintiffs’ medical expert testified that the defendant should have delivered the baby by Cesarean section delivery in light of the above and further considering that the mother’s labor failed to progress after a four-hour trial, which was a breach of the standard of care that resulted in the child’s birth injury (the jury agreed with the plaintiffs’ expert’s opinion). While the plaintiffs’ medical expert further testified that the defendant used improper technique in delivering the baby, which caused the baby’s injury, the jury concluded that the defendant did not deviate from the standard of care in the delivery technique he used.
The defendant challenged the jury’s verdict against him because the jury did not find that he had used the improper delivery technique, but the appellate court stated that the experts’ testimony during trial had established the child’s injury would not have occurred had the shoulder dystocia been avoided by performing a timely Cesarean section delivery.
The appellate court upheld the amount of damages awarded by the jury, finding that the evidence fully established the severe impact of the child’s injury on her life (“we do not find that the damages awarded for past and future pain and suffering materially deviate from the range of reasonable compensation”).
If your baby has Erb’s palsy as a result of a birth injury, the cause of your child’s Erb’s palsy may be due to medical negligence. You should promptly seek the legal advice of a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your Erb’s palsy claim (birth injury claim) for you and represent you and your family in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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